I enjoy the business side of college athletics. I'm not a fanatic of any one team. I hope all four do well. Having said that, I can't see Malzahn or Stoops getting more than 5 years in at their respective schools (for all the reasons you enunciated). Jones faces a fan base that believes it is due; not willing to concede the possibility that the glory days are behind them. He had better produce as urgently as possible. Bielema is both a known entity and will have the solid support of the administration as long as he keeps Arkansas relevant and is as honest as Petrino was dishonest, both very achievable goals.
The Southeastern Conference will have four new head football coaches walking its sidelines this fall. All have gotten off to impressive starts with their new schools. All have won over the majority of their fans already.
It’s just unlikely that all will succeed.
The average coaching tenure for SEC football coaches hired since the year 2000 has been just 4.46 seasons. Only nine coaches have lasted longer than four seasons at their schools. Only six have held their jobs for a minimum of six seasons: Mark Richt (13 seasons at Georgia), Les Miles (nine seasons at LSU), Bobby Johnson (eight seasons at Vanderbilt), Rich Brooks (seven seasons at Kentucky), Nick Saban (seven seasons at Alabama) and Urban Meyer (six seasons at Florida).
The word “churn” comes to mind.
Coaches don’t get very much time to rebuild programs in the SEC. And those who do have success aren’t allowed much leeway when it comes to perceived slippage. So for all the happy thoughts and big dreams at Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee today, chances are there will be a lot of tears to go with the cheers in the long run.
With that in mind, we thought we’d weigh in with our opinions on each rookie coach and his chances for long-term success at his current location. While Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn, Mark Stoops and Butch Jones all look to be good hires on paper, one of them will be the first man to exit the premises. Our view on who that will be might surprise you.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
The Positives: Of the SEC’s new coaches, Bielema has the longest track record of success against the highest-level of competition. Granted, he took over a strong Wisconsin program, but things at Arkansas aren’t as through-the-floor bad as they appeared season.
The Obstacles: Like two other new SEC coaches, Bielema doesn’t have a rich recruiting base in his school’s home state. Also, the Razorbacks have won enough historically — and recently under Bobby Petrino — to expect big things from their football coaches. But how quickly can Bielema shape a roster that was — for the most part — put together to play Petrino’s pass-happy system? It’s no secret that Bielema’s gameplans are much more ground-and-pound.
The Verdict: Based on his previous success at a big, BCS football school as well as the recruits that he’ll surely target in Texas — the Hogs are adding non-conference foes from the Lone State State left and right — Bielema has the best odds for long-term success. Again, Arkansas is one of the winningest programs in the country. The Razorbacks’ new coach was handed the keys to a Lexus SUV, not a Toyota Tercel.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
The Positives: Jones has quickly displayed a skill for marketing and promotion. He’s won over former Volunteer players who’d lost faith in their alma mater and who had become skeptical of every new coach hired. More importantly, Jones and his staff have gotten off to a hot start on the recruiting trail which is just the kind of momentum UT needed from its new leader.
The Obstacles: Jones is the fourth coach in Knoxville since 2008 so the roster has numerous holes. Taking a larger view, the Volunteers must recruit nationally to survive. And worse, Tennessee’s permanent cross-division rival happens to be Alabama, the best program in college football today. (Kudos to the Vol brass for not whining about that fact.)
The Verdict: Jones’s first squad will face five teams that won 11 or more games a year ago. Next year he’ll have to rebuild basically his entire offensive line. The climb early on could be tough, but in six years as a college head coach Jones has won or shared four conference titles. Plus, Tennessee is due. Just as Arkansas has tradition on its side, UT is the winningest program in the country since 1927… as Jones is quick to point out at every opportunity.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
The Positives: Excitement. Energy. You name it and Stoops has brought it to the Kentucky football program. So far he’s reached win-starved UK football fans and recruits alike. The Cats remain perched near or at the top of most recruiting rankings as we roll from June to July. There’s not even anyone in the Stoops family who would have predicted that level of salesmanship. Even better? Stoops is finally targeting the state of Ohio, which we have declared a UK necessity for years.
The Obstacles: Unlike Bielema and Jones, Stoops is selling a dream, a vision. For Kentucky gridiron tradition you have to go back more than half a century to the days of Paul “Bear” Bryant and Vito “Babe” Parilli. With arguably the thinnest recruiting pool in the SEC and lacking a history of wins, the Wildcat head coaching job ranks near the bottom of the conference with those at fellow traditional cellar-dwellers Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
The Verdict: Though Stoops has gotten off to a flying start, it’s hard to imagine things ending well at Kentucky. Either the Wildcats will struggle to climb the SEC East standings table and Stoops will wash out like so many Big Blue coaches before him… or he’ll have enough success to catch the attention of a traditional football power. If he’s like past Wildcat coaches, he’ll fail. If he does succeed, it’s likely he’ll move on to a bigger, easier job. Either way, the odds aren’t good that Stoops will be coaching in Lexington in, let’s say, eight or nine years. (If he leaves UK in better shape than he found it, that will still make Stoops a good hire.)
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
The Positives: Malzahn knows the power brokers in the AU family. He knows the administration. He knows many of the players on the roster. He knows the high school coaches in the states of Alabama and Georgia, where he’ll need to do the bulk of his recruiting. And like Arkansas and Tennessee, history shows that Auburn can win and win often.
The Obstacles: Did we mention that history shows Auburn can win and win often? It was just 2010 when Malzahn — then serving as Gene Chizik’s offensive coordinator — helped lead a Cam Newton’s Tigers to the BCS championship. Of the four new coaches in the league this year, it’s likely that Malzahn will get off to the best start as his roster appears to boast the most talent. In other words, Auburn’s new coach is going to have to deal with big expectations more quickly than his fellow newbies. Worse, he happens to be coaching in the same state as Nick Saban and that’s not a guy you want to play second-fiddle to at the moment. Then there’s Auburn’s pesky habit of finding itself in a scandal or in NCAA hot water. Pat Dye’s tenure ended in scandal. Tommy Bowden’s tenure ended in scandal. Tommy Tuberville was a victim of grand expectations and Saban’s arrival. Gene Chizik won, dealt with scandal, and then saw his program collapse.
The Verdict: In the short run, no new SEC coach has more going for him than Malzahn. In the long run, no new SEC coach may have more working against him than the Tigers’ new boss. That’s not to say he’s the worst coach on the list or that he’ll fail to win games on the Plains. But Bielema and Jones will get a bit more time to build things up — they didn’t win BCS titles at their schools just 29 months ago. Pressure will be low early on for Stoops as well as he inherited a program that went off the rails last season. For those reasons, surprisingly, we believe Malzahn will be the first of the league’s rookies to either race for the exit or have it shown to him.